Carrie Turansky's first novel of her Edwardian Brides series is a sweet romance taking place at a country estate in Edwardian era England. Due to her father's poor health, Julia Foster and her family return to England from their missionary work in India, hoping that her father will grow well again and that they might return to their calling in the far land. In the meantime, Julia must find work, and her teaching in India, as well as her mother's wealthy upbringing, has prepared her to be a governess. Working at Highland Hall has its challenges - not only is she governess for the Lord William's two rambunctious children, but also for his wards, two hurting teenage girls. William's shy sister Sarah proves to be an ally in the house, and William is attracted to her, but not everyone wants her there - and as neither a regular servant or a member of the family, Julia is in a precarious position. With the threat of losing the estate, William has to find a way to raise money, and marrying beneath him will not help, but marrying for wealth holds little attraction to his heart. Can William find a way to save both Highland Hall and his heart?
I liked the historical aspects of the novel. Death duties rose significantly during the twentieth century and led to the loss of many country estates, so it is fitting that William is hit with outrageous inheritance taxes. Class - especially marrying within one's class - is a big issue in the story, as it was then, and I like how the author (through Julia) compares it to the caste system in India, bringing up the question of whether they really were so much better and more civilized than the Indians. Turansky also does a good job of putting the governess in her place; she is higher than the other servants, and therefore has little in common with them, but she is not actually family either, and therefore she has few people with whom she can actually associate. Julia has more to do with the adults of the family than was perhaps realistic, but given Sarah's circumstances, I would still say it is within the realm of possibility.
While it is nice that Julia starts out the novel as a strong christian, as such she has very little growth through the story; other than speaking her mind a bit too forcefully a couple times, she pretty much always makes right decisions. William, on the other hand, has a great many faults and much room for growth; while he learns to overcome most of those faults, I did not feel that he grows much closer to God. He willingly participates in all the rituals, but he is not on his knees crying out to God for wisdom and provision.
It is a sweet romance, but it is fairly predictable and passive, lacking tension that would heighten the romance or varying relationships between characters. I liked the secondary romance between Sarah and Clark and its pivotal role in paving the way for William and Julia, but I wish the points of view had been limited to those four - or even just Julia and William - to tighten up the story a bit. Including the viewpoints of the nursery maid and housekeeper besides made it more Downton Abbey-ish, but in my opinion their stories could have still been effectively told without it, and then the focus would have remained more centralized. The more points of view, the harder it is to pull off a tight-knit story.
There is some very sound advice in here for anyone considering marriage, and I like how it plays out in the various romances of the story. It is a pleasant, clean read, reminiscent of The Sound of Music; I did not love it, but I liked it enough that I will probably read the next book in the series. 3 1/2 stars
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
1. The Governess of Highland Hall
2. The Daughter of Highland Hall
3. A Refuge at Highland Hall
More Info from the publisher
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